Dr Joanne McCormack: We need to Talk about Food
Dr Joanne McCormack is a general practitioner, and the named GP for safeguarding children, in Warrington, Cheshire. Since starting at her practice 23 years ago, she has seen the incidence of diabetes in her patients increase sevenfold. In recent years, she has taken a keen interest in the role diet in health and wellbeing. Dr McCormack runs frequent low carb meetings, as well as her website – fatismyfriend.co.uk, and is one of the founding members of the Public Health Collaboration. This talk was given at their 2017 conference in Manchester.
Dr McCormack notes just how little nutrition training doctors actually receive in medical school, beyond the mantra of “eat a balanced diet”. Over the past few years especially, it has become clear to her that people have varying metabolisms, and can respond to various foods differently. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet, but nobody requires carbohydrate. Because of all the confusion surrounding nutrition, it is vital for healthcare professionals and patients to have a two-way discussion about diet and lifestyle.
One of Dr McCormack’s key principles is to eat ‘real food’, but most people seem to reference toast, jam and cereal as healthy breakfast items. As these are all processed, ‘fake’ foods, there is definitely some disconnect between the two viewpoints. Carbohydrate is the only macronutrient group that is non-essential, yet since it constitutes most of the EatWell Plate, essential fatty acids and amino acids take a backseat. Dr McCormack notes that this can have deleterious consequences for immunity, growth and repair, especially in children. The remedy to this would be to ensure ‘real food’ is eaten for every meal by children and adults alike, both at home and at school / work.
In addition to diet, it is important to consider other factors such as sleep, stress, genetics, medications, hormones and sunlight that play a role in health and wellbeing. A healthy diet does not mean much if these other factors are not in balance. The involvement of gut flora, i.e. the microbiome, particularly is becoming an intensive area of research.
Dr McCormack outlines ways in which healthcare professionals and members of the public alike can work towards effective dialogue concerning diet and lifestyle. Firstly, observing oneself or a patient honestly allows for the identification and acceptance of good and bad habits. Secondly, it is important to share ideas, particularly the messages of low carb and real food, with colleagues, friends and family. Dr McCormack goes on to explain that for healthcare professionals, this is perfectly feasible in accordance within NICE and GMC guidelines for type 2 diabetes. Finally, a key requirement for lifestyle change is hope. This comes about by setting frequent, small, achievable goals and reflecting on progress. If patients are given hope, then they can motivate themselves and others to make positive changes.